30 November 2018
While most business leaders talk of the potential of a four-day week, Elon Musk is once again bucking the general trend.
Asked on Twitter what the ‘correct number of hours a week to change the world’ is he responded: “Varies per person, but about 80 sustained, peaking above 100 at times. Pain level increases exponentially above 80.”
I have to disagree. There is nothing more dangerous for your business than overworking a team. Tiredness and increased workloads ultimately lead to stress. Stress is incredibly dangerous. Not only does it cause people to make the wrong call under pressure, it affects the team around them and it can lead to serious health issues. Studies have shown that workplace stress is as unhealthy as second-hand smoke.
When researchers at University College London assessed 85,000 workers (predominantly middle-aged men and women) they found a clear link between overwork and cardiovascular problems, especially an irregular heart beat or atrial fibrillation, which increases the chances of a stroke five-fold.
Alongside personal health issues, working longer doesn’t actually mean you’re more productive. The theory of Parkinson’s Law shows that we inherently expand a task to fit into the time that we have allocated for it. That means that if you give yourself a week to complete a two-hour task, psychologically speaking, the task increases in complexity to fill that whole week. Whilst the actual task might not take that much longer, the stress having to get it done fills the time. Giving yourself the right amount of time, or setting an working daily limit, gives you the appropriate deadline you need.
When you’re more tired, you’re more likely to make mistakes. Research by Red Bull and Glassdoor proved this. Their research showed that 66% of workers made mistakes at work when they were tired. On top of this, 41% of workers asked reported that fatigue made them forget essential job items. It also found that 21% of workers missed a meeting and 16% had missed a deadline because they were over-tired.
Ultimately, longer weeks are counterproductive.
I’ve fallen into the trap myself, struggling to switch off. In the early days of any business, you are the only person, or one of the only people, who can keep the business going so it feels impossible not to work every hour that you can. Having around 15 businesses on the go, I could easily work every hour in the day now. However, one of the greatest lessons I learned was to switch off. Taking enough time away from the business keeps you inspired. It gives you time to let your mind wander, to come up with new ideas.
What do you think of Musk’s comments on the length of the working week?